Sorry for the bad news, but gone are the days of only worrying about your kids when they leave the house. Our little bundles of joy can now find themselves in serious trouble without ever getting their little butts up off the couch.
As a modern parent, one of the most important things you can teach your child is how to stay safe online. A firm handshake can only get you so far… Yes, the internet can be a fantastic resource for learning and entertainment, but it also poses many dangers, especially for children who soak up everything like lovable dish sponges.
In this article, you'll find a young father's tips for teaching kids about internet safety and how to help them navigate the digital world safely.
The Importance of Internet Safety Education
The internet is a vast and constantly evolving landscape filled with both beautifully written content and seedy chat rooms. With all the variety of stuff that's ended up online, it can be difficult for parents to keep up with the latest trends and dangers.
While the task may seem daunting or hopeless, parents must make an effort to educate their children about internet safety. The consequences of not doing so can be severe, ranging from cyberbullying to identity theft and even physical harm, not to mention the possibility of permanently altering your child's personal growth and development. No pressure.
One of the most doable things you can do as a parent is to teach your child how to protect their personal information online. This includes things like their name, address, the family's credit card information, phone number, and social security number. Make sure your child understands that they should never share this information with strangers online, even if they seem friendly or trustworthy.
It's also important to teach your child about the dangers of online predators. You don't have to be a doomer about it, but make sure your child understands that not everyone they meet online is who they say they are and that they should never meet up with someone they've only met online without your permission and supervision.
Common Online Dangers for Kids
There are many pitfalls and dangers that children can face online, and it's crucial for parents to be aware of these risks. One of the most common and messy dangers is cyberbullying. This can take many forms, from name-calling and teasing to spreading rumors and posting embarrassing photos or videos.
Another danger is exposure to inappropriate content. The internet is full of content that is not appropriate for children, including violent and sexually explicit material. This is where parental controls should be put in place to restrict your child's access to this type of content.
Finally, there is the risk of identity theft. Identity thieves often target children because they have clean credit records and are unlikely to notice fraudulent activity.
Make sure your child understands the importance of protecting their personal information and help them monitor their credit report as they get older. You want them to have a clean start into adulthood, and identity theft can easily complicate their life before it even starts.
Tips for Teaching Your Kids About Internet Safety
That's just the big risks. Imagination is really the limit when it comes to bad things your children can get into online. Now that you understand some of the risks your child may face online let's look at some tips for teaching your child about internet safety.
After all, who knows what the internet will look like in five years, so as a parent, it's your job to pass on to your rugrats good habits and strategies for navigating the ever-changing digital landscape.
Setting rules and boundaries for internet use
Before you do anything else, one of the most important things you can do is to set rules and boundaries for your child's internet use.
Make sure your child understands what is and isn't allowed online, and be clear about the consequences of breaking these rules. This is extremely difficult to do, but once you get your system in place, everything else on this list becomes much easier to implement.
For example, you may decide that your child is only allowed to use the internet for a certain amount of time each day or that they are not allowed to use social media until they are a certain age. Whatever rules you decide on, ensure they are age-appropriate, and your child understands why they are in place. They will fight you and test your limits, but stay strong!
Set up their digital space
Before you give your kids a new device or hand them yours, set it up for child use. What does that mean?
Well, parental controls are a given, of course, but install apps that encourage safety. One example is safe search engines such as Swiggle or Kids-search. Have only Youtube Kids installed (though I'm on the fence if that app is good for kids) and get rid of the regular Youtube app. Only have games that you already approve of.
You can save time by adding these to your 'Favorites' tab on your browser. Are there any apps that you still need to keep around that could lead to problems? Be sure to enable safety settings ahead of time.
Children won't miss apps, content, or features that they never knew about in the first place.
Keep it age appropriate
One of the ways to protect your child's online safety (and sanity) is by providing them with age-appropriate games and websites.
Age-appropriate games and websites are those that are explicitly designed for a particular age group, and the content is tailored to their level of understanding. For example, a game developed for a five-year-old child will have more straightforward gameplay and age-appropriate language compared to a game designed for a teenager.
There are several benefits of providing age-appropriate games and websites to your child. First, it almost guarantees that your child is not exposed to inappropriate content for their age. Some websites and games may contain violent or sexual content that can damage a child's mental health.
Second, age-appropriate games and websites are designed to be educational and can help your child learn new skills and concepts. Educational games can help improve a child's reading, writing, and math skills, but of course, they aren't as "cool" as Zombie Slayer 5.
Parental controls and airplane mode
Parental controls are software tools that allow parents to restrict access to certain types of content or websites. They are often built into devices such as smartphones and tablets, as well as internet routers and home computers.
With parental controls, parents can block access to websites that contain explicit material, limit screen time, and prevent children from making purchases or downloading apps without permission. Some parental control software even allows parents to monitor their child's online activity and receive alerts if they encounter inappropriate content.
Another tool that parents can use to keep their children safe online is their device's built-in airplane mode. Airplane mode is a setting on smartphones and other devices that disables all wireless connections, including wifi and cellular data.
This can be useful in situations where parents want to ensure that their child is not accessing the internet, such as during a family dinner or while on a road trip. By putting a device into airplane mode, parents can ensure their child is not exposed to potentially harmful online content or engaging in risky online behaviors. Plus, it keeps kids off sketchy public WIFI.
However, while parental controls and airplane mode can be practical tools for keeping kids safe online, they are not foolproof. Children are often tech-savvy and can find ways to bypass parental controls or disable airplane mode.
In addition, there are many ways for children to access the internet beyond just their personal devices, such as at a friend's house or school. Therefore, it is vital for parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about online safety and to teach them how to be responsible digital citizens.
It is crucial to communicate openly with children about their online experiences and encourage them to ask questions or voice their concerns. This helps create a safe and open environment where children feel comfortable discussing any issues they may face online.
By doing so, we can empower children to make informed decisions and develop the skills needed to navigate the online world confidently. Monitoring everything your kid sees or does online is near impossible, so creating an open dialogue can help you stay in the loop.
Discuss ads, social media, and online games
Where do most of the problems occur when kids meet the internet? Social media, ads, and online video games.
Children are particularly susceptible to the influence of advertising, as they often cannot distinguish between reality and marketing. Ads can promote unrealistic beauty standards, unhealthy habits, and materialism, leading to negative self-image and peer pressure.
All parents should discuss the strategies that companies use to track internet users and sell products, including targeted ads and influencer marketing. By understanding the tactics used by advertisers, kids can be more critical and discerning when confronted with ads on social media.
Another important topic to discuss with kids is the impact of social media on mental health. Studies have shown that social media use can lead to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Parents should encourage their kids to limit their social media use and prioritize in-person interactions.
It is also smart to discuss cyberbullying and the negative impact that online harassment can have on mental health. Cyberbullying is rampant on social media and video game chats. Parents should do their best to teach their kids strategies to cope with cyberbullying, such as blocking and reporting abusive behavior.
Finally, parents should discuss the importance of privacy and safety on social media. Kids should understand the risks of sharing personal information online, such as their full name, address, and phone number. Parents can help their kids set their own privacy settings on social media accounts and teach them to think critically about who they add as friends.
Monitoring your child's online activity
That said, you should at least try to monitor what your kids are up to on the World Wide Web. You don't need to be their own personal FBI agent, but you should have an idea of what they are doing when they are plugged into a device.
Monitoring your child's activity doesn't mean you need to read every email or message your child sends, but it does mean keeping an eye on their social media accounts and the websites they visit.
There are many tools available to help you monitor your child's online activity, including parental control software and internet filters. But looking over their shoulder from time to time and having them show you their accounts once in a while goes a long way.
Also, make sure your child is aware of how you monitor them. Yes, this means they will likely figure out how to hide their activity from you, but showing that respect and trust is well worth it in the long run. They will find out how you monitor them anyway, and that's an arms race you just can't win.
Model good online behavior
Modeling good online behavior is leading by example. Children learn by observing and imitating the behavior of those around them. If you're continuously scrolling or are constantly distracted by TikTok, your children will be too. If you waste most of the day online, your children will too.
Therefore, practicing what we preach and demonstrating positive online behavior is wise. This could include limiting screen time, being respectful towards others online, refraining from posting inappropriate content, and avoiding engaging in cyberbullying or other harmful behaviors.
Helpful Resources for Teaching Your Kid About Staying Safe Online
There are tons of resources available to help you teach your child about internet safety. Here are a few that you may find helpful:
- Common Sense Media: This website provides reviews and ratings for movies, TV shows, books, and more and also offers resources for teaching kids about internet safety.
- NetSmartz: This website provides interactive games and videos to help kids learn about internet safety.
- iKeepSafe: This organization produces a variety of resources for parents, including guides and videos on internet safety.
Cyberbullying and How To Prevent It
While worse things can happen, like abduction, cyberbullying is a serious problem that can have long-lasting effects on children. It's practically a certainty that your children will deal with some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime. That's why it's super important to teach your child how to recognize and prevent cyberbullying.
Encourage your child to speak up if they or someone they know is being bullied online. Make sure they understand that cyberbullying is never okay and that they should never respond to or retaliate against a bully.
And though it's a hard pill to swallow, understand that your kid can also be a cyber victim one day and cyberbully the next. You can also help prevent cyberbullying by teaching your child to be kind and respectful online. Encourage them to think before they post and to treat others the way they would like to be treated.
Final Thoughts on Internet Safety for Kids
Teaching your child about internet safety is an ongoing process, and staying involved and aware of the latest trends and dangers is necessary. Setting rules and boundaries for internet use, monitoring your child's online activity, and using helpful resources can help keep your child safe online. It's not hopeless!
Remember, the internet can be a wonderful resource for learning and entertainment, but it also poses many dangers. You CAN help your child navigate the digital world safely and confidently by teaching your child about internet safety.
With a little (actually, a lot) of grit and determination, you can make your children capable of protecting themselves online. Then, all you have to do is worry about all the other parenting stuff. Good luck.